As Tuition Increases, Britain’s Application Numbers Decline

Tuition increases at British universities are having a clear impact on the number of UK students seeking admission to the nation’s higher education institutions. According to analysis of the university enrollment data by the Independent Commission on Fees, about 15,000 fewer students than expected applied for a place in a degree program this year.

Starting this year, universities can set their tuition fees between £3,000 and £9,000 per year, and the vast majority of schools chose to set their fees at or near the maximum allowed. When the white paper outlining the new university fee policy was first published, the expectation was that schools would charge a range of fees depending on their relative position on league tables (rankings), but contrary to expectations, most schools felt that to have their tuition set low would have students thinking that the quality of their education is questionable and thus turn to another university.

The raising of fees prompted violent protests on the streets of London and inflicted deep damage on the reputation of the Liberal Democrats, who went into the election pledging to vote against a fee rise. Published a week before A-level results come out, the report says that the number of university applicants in England dropped by 8.8% this year compared with the tally for 2010.

Signs that the new fees would affect admission numbers were apparent as early as late last fall when some universities reported application numbers being off by as much as 50% from the same time the year before. Overall, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service reported that the number of in-country applications dropped by 12%. City University of London said that it received 41.4% fewer requests to enroll, while Brunel said their application numbers dropped by about a quarter.

This close to doubled the drop in applications between 2010 and 2011, the last opportunity for students to enroll and pay the old, lower fees.

University tuition for students from other parts of Britain remains relatively low. Students from Scotland attending Scottish schools don’t pay any tuition at all, while the government of Wales committed to covering tuition fees in excess of £3,465 for any Welsh students attending UK universities. Students from Northern Ireland also have their maximum out of pocket tuition expenses capped at £3,465.

About one person in 20 who would have been expected to have applied to university this year (if the trend of increasing application rates among English school-leavers was maintained) did not do so, the report says. This equates to approximately 15,000 young applicants.

The commission is chaired by Will Hutton, principal of Hertford College, Oxford, and a former Observer editor, and also includes Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, Stephen Machin, professor of economics at University College London, and the journalist Libby Purves.